There are various arguments surrounding critical thinking, from it being an innate ability to its perceived absence due to cultural backgrounds, to diversities in the presentation of critical thinking. Less attention, however, is placed on the cognitive complexity embedded in critical thinking performance, particularly the important role of knowledge understanding and application when becoming a critical thinker. While there are generic statements stipulating learning outcomes and expectations, operationalising them in the curriculum design, learning activities and assessments by students is less transparent. Thus, this study aims to propose and validate a critical learning skills (CLS) framework to contextualise expected learning outcomes through a visual roadmap for successful achievement at the master's level. We assume that being a critical thinker entails various critical learning skills, and that critical thinking performance is closely related to knowledge understanding and application. The CLS framework includes four components: information gathering, building understanding, knowledge application and productive thinking. The descriptors of each component were generated after analysing the keywords stated in the learning outcomes in the qualification descriptors at the master's level in the UK context. A questionnaire and confirmatory factor analysis were used to validate the framework with a sample of 132 master's students from two programs at one UK university. The results indicate that the framework is reliable and valid. The potential of using the CLS framework as a guide for future research and postgraduate teaching and learning are discussed. The framework can be applied to master's programs in other contexts.