I'll preface by saying I honestly have a load of anxiety associated with this by now, such that it detracts from reading.
I have never been a note-taker (only taking them when forced to by teachers, specific things such as formulas, as outlines of topics in preparation to guessable exam questions, or as a bullet-point list of what I am going to say – on the document that I am writing). Going into the third year of my undergraduate, I began to feel: ‘Well OK, now I need notes, because I am reading a lot of papers.’ A lot of time passes, and I am falling behind. I speak with the study skills folks about my concerns, they offer me some tips about summarizing and stuff, most of which I already put into practice, and their conclusion was that I was probably just anxious.
However, I kept falling behind, despite putting in more hours than most of my peers. It is apparent to me that I do not know how to take notes – possibly because I do not know how to use them.
Most of my notes essentially end up as paraphrasing. While I can then go through and summarize, I always feel this is an aimless activity, that doesn't really aid my understanding. In one case, I have literally more pages of typed notes than I the article has (25 pages of notes for a 22-page article), and certainly my handwritten notes are similar, and are often just lines and lines of prose summaries of paragraphs. (I can comment with examples of both typed and written notes if it'll help clarify.)
This leads me to ask for thoughts: How can I rectify this moving forward? It's gotten to the point where my academic future literally seems to hinge on this silly issue, because it takes me so long to make notes on content that I fall behind, all the while feeling that I am struggling to understand, etc. (Before, in the previous years, I just did a lot of reading, often wider and more extensively than most of my immediate peers, and it lead to positive interaction where people came to me with questions; now, I have really had all confidence shattered, I feel I cannot understand the papers I have spent a lot of time making notes on, even if in principle I do understand them as shown by my ability to answer questions on them. I even have pages of notes on how to make notes, and I certainly feel like I don't understand that.
Is note-taking an essential skill? Would it develop naturally if I 'needed' it? I can't help but wonder if I would find it developing as and when I needed it, without the thought and the stress, and the failing, but it is very clear that, because I never developed these skills, I really have no clue. At this point, I certainly feel as if I would probably understand more of my field at this point if I relied only of reading, because we are talking about days a week to make notes on single papers, and, again, I have not found single-two page summaries of the papers (as many prescribe with several questions about them) to be useful.