I agree almost entirely with RN34TX (hi there CT! I was just thinking of you this morning, if you can believe it!!).
The review course (3 days I think) by Excelsior College (not a look alike!!) was indispensible for me. The trainers are employees of the college, they have conducted CPNE's for years, and they know it inside and out. (The look-alikes are EC grads, if they have been to more than one CPNE it is because they didn't pass at least once, and they do not have the inside info.)
I was intimidated by the book too. As I read it, it appeared to me that it probably had gotten that big because various and sundry students complained about some aspect or another (you didn't tell me I had to ......). Honestly I did not read the book but I did glance through it.
I also received narratives from a number of Excelsior grads on this board, and that helped.
And I watched the video from EC.
I bought the flash cards, but they did not work for me, especially when I realized they were verbatim reproductions of the critical elements in the manual. (I hate discovering that I paid twice for the same thing.) They also were not printed so you could flip the cards--if you put them on a ring (I did) and flipped them, you also had to turn them over. (Don't know if that makes sense, but that aspect bothered me.)
It is important to know (rather than memorize) the critical elements. All they are is the proper steps to properly and safely complete basic nursing tasks.
What I did was, I got 5 x 8 index cards and colored markers. I used different colors for each of the three types of nursing tasks. (Heaven help me, I cannot remember the three types now, but there were three.)
I found that as I wrote out the cards, I could skip certain things. I mean, after you have written "document blah blah blah" ten times, you realize, hey, I don't need to write stuff I already know.
By the time I was writing the second set of flash cards, the list of steps for each task was getting very short. The third set I realized I wasn't looking at the book anymore, I was writing them from memory. And that was it.
The next thing I would suggest is, get a skills book and review. Even review the stuff you already know. There will be things that you will be reminded of, that you would ordinarily do, but the CPNE is a highly stressed situation, and if you are going to forget something, you will forget it then--so review skills. I found that reviewing IM injections helped me a lot, for example.
There are certain cardinal rules to remember. Wash your hands. Even if you don't really need to, wash them. Wash them before entering the patient's room, after leaving it. Wash them if you pick something off the floor--and make sure you clean that too. Someone posted here someplace that they picked up a pen they dropped, put it in their pocket and promptly failed. If you drop a pen, kick it under the bed. You don't need it! I dropped an electrical cord on the floor for the BP machine. I got a bunch of alcohol pads, ran them down that cord, got it good and clean, and then washed my hands. No problem.
Examiners are looking to see if you have good interaction with your patient. I talk to everybody anyway, so it worked out fine for me, but I realized after the fact that it had helped me a lot. So everthing you do, everything you are thinking related to the task you are about to do or are doing right then, talk about it out loud to your patient. The patient is a little nervous too, and this will make things more comfy for both of you. A side benefit? Your examiner will know exactly what you are thinking, so she will know that you know what you are doing and won't have to assume.
Bring plenty of pens, pencils, highlighters and colored markers with you to the CPNE. I put mine in a clear ziploc baggie. I used the highlighters to highlight the tasks I had been assigned, on the treatment plan where I was supposed to document. I could not possibly overlook something later, that way.
Do look at the "cardex" in the manual. It is exactly, and I mean exactly what you will see in your CPNE. Familiarity with the form will make a big difference.
I actually enjoyed my CPNE, but I cried when it was all over. The stress is unimaginable, and it is more intense the more you have emotionally in becoming a nurse, I believe. So be prepared to treat yourself well while you are there. Eat out, have snacks you like, get enough rest. I rented a car so I wasn't stuck in the hotel room, and even visited the library and checked my email!
Good luck--relax, don't leave it all to the last minute, if there are others in your area prepping for the CPNE you might get together with one or more. That was a benefit for me of attending the EC CPNE prep seminars--I met about 25 other EC students--that helped me make a more objective assessment of my level of preparation and chased away some of the heebie-jeebies.