While you should still be using the close textual analysis skills you've been learning throughout the course (i.e. the linguistic labelling with clear examples for AO1 and the discussion of meanings, effects and representations created for AO3), it does mean that you need to think carefully about addressing the wider issues of change, variation and discourses that usually appear as part of the 2nd bullet point in each question.
What exactly is AO2, though? The AQA spec says "AO2: demonstrate critical understanding of a range of concepts and issues related to the construction and analysis of meanings in spoken and written language". I've generally taken the first part of this as the most important, namely the concepts and issues part.
In the top band for AO2, you can see what they're after each year from the non-italicised descriptors (i.e. the bits that remain the same each year, whatever the question set):
To use a tortuous analogy from the world of rubbish, you need to do more than just wheel out your wheelie-bin of knowledge and dump it across the pavement for the examiner to sift through. You've got to be a bit more like the person who sifts through their recycling and splits it into various types - cardboard, paper, tin cans, bottles - working out where things go before you put it all out for collection.
(Of course, this analogy breaks down the minute the council rubbish truck (aka the AQA examiner) comes along and just tips it all into one big pile before shipping it off to Albania to be dumped as landfill. But why let truth get in the way of a tedious attempt to make exam revision entertaining?)
So, evaluation of knowledge is critical:
- weigh up ideas and look for competing explanations (e.g. reasons for people using non-standard English)
- discuss contrasting models (Charles Hockett's bull's eye theory or Paul Postal's "non-functional stylistic change" versus Jean Aitchison's functional approach, as outlined in Chapter 8 of her Language Change: Progress or Decay*)
- think about alternative explanations for the same linguistic features (Robin Lakoff argued that women use more tag questions because they're insecure; Janet Holmes found that women use more tags but only of a certain type, and that male tags tend to be the ones seeking reassurance)
- be prepared to challenge ideas within the texts you are given in the exam (especially true in Section B where the texts are non-specialist and often caricature, or present simplistic versions of, linguistic arguments)
*thanks to Sherif for raising the issue of AO2 evaluation and these ideas